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Panel Authorizes Subpoenas for Administration Officials
In debate before today's Senate Judiciary Committee vote, Democrats rebuffed GOP members' arguments that the panel should accept Bush's offer and postpone the subpoena authority for White House officials.
"We can always issue a subpoena . . . if we don't like what we get," Specter said. "Why not take what we can get, in the interest of finding out. . . ."
Leahy interjected, "No. What we're told we can get is nothing, nothing, nothing. We're told that we can have a closed-door meeting with no transcript, not under oath, limited number of people, and the White House will determine what the agenda is. That, to me, is nothing."
"Why waste our time bidding against ourselves when they've already said no?" Leahy asked. "All the things you've suggested might make sense, but they've already rejected it."
Referring to Bush, he said, "I know he's the decider for the White House. He's not the decider for the United States Senate."
Instead of an offer to negotiate, Leahy said, "we were told, 'You will do it this way or no way.'" In his 32 years in office, he said, "I've never heard the Senate take an ultimatum like that."
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the committee, "It is clear to me that we have been misled from the very beginning in this situation. To this very day, nobody knows who ordered these firings or what the reasons for them were."
Although the Justice Department has provided more than 3,000 pages of e-mails and told lawmakers they have received everything they need for their inquiry, she suggested that some messages might have been withheld because they show Bush's involvement in the matter.
"There is a suspicious period of time where there were no e-mails, from around the 16th of November to the 7th of December" last year, Feinstein said. "The belief is that that was the time the president was traveling and people wanted to get presidential approval, which apparently, some people say, came forward on December 4th." She added, "I don't know whether that's true or not true."
Asked yesterday about the nearly three-week gap in the e-mails and whether Bush had to sign off on the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "The president has no recollection of this ever being raised with him."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told the committee that "the ineptitude of how this was handled is astounding to me." Although "there's no doubt all of these U.S. attorneys were stellar in their performance," he said, it is the president's prerogative to "fire anybody that works at his pleasure," including for political reasons.
"Political doesn't necessarily denote illegal, wrongful or unjust," Coburn said.
With so many issues of importance to deal with, Congress should not "create for the purpose of sport . . . a 'constitutional crisis,'" he said.
Staff writers Dan Eggen and Paul Kane contributed to this report.